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a Grimm tale

February 23, 2011

little red riding hood

We now read Grimm’s fairy tales every day since the boy wants longer stories “from the big book”. His favorite is Little Red Riding Hood. While looking for a good collection, I discovered that none of our local bookstores have the Grimm’s fairy tales. Huh? Isn’t that sort of like not having Huckleberry Finn or 1984 or The Odyssey? I think Grimm‘s must fall off the map because of the supposed graphic nature of some of the stories. While I admit that three is young for some of them, older kids can handle all the stories in the book and gain insight just from the repetition of the story. I still have favorite Grimm stories from when I was young, like The 12 Dancing Princesses.

Since I have a son, and we are now reading the tales, I took out my copy of Iron John by Robert Bly and reread it. It is an amazing analysis of the Grimm story Iron John, sometimes known as Iron Hans. Bly takes each part of the fairy story and shows us how it illustrates the journey toward manhood and also how it explains the relevance of the journey itself.

The tale begins with a strange situation where every time a hunter goes into a certain part of the forest, he disappears. Soon no one goes there. One day, a brave soul ventures in with a dog and a hand comes out of a pond and takes his dog. He buckets out the pond and finds a hairy wild man, who is taken to the king and imprisoned. The King’s son is playing with a ball near the wild man’s cage and it rolls in. The Wild Man, named Iron John, says he’ll give the ball back if the boy lets him out. And so the boy’s strange journey begins, he steals the key to the cage from under his mother’s pillow, lets the Wild Man out, goes with him, and has many adventures, (all of which correspond to stages of life) culminating in a marriage feast to a princess. During this feast, a long-lost King comes in, announces that he is Iron John and the boy, with his life’s deeds, has broken the long-lost King’s enchantment into a Wild Man. Then he gives the boy (now a man) his riches.

It is a curious ending, leading one to ponder more about the meaning of our lives. So there is another purpose in our life’s journey besides our own fulfillment, in this case breaking the enchantment of a King. I can feel this at times. When I am just doing something to do it, it feels empty, but when I can find the passion of my life’s path, no matter how impractical it may seem, something else takes over and it is fulfilling and easy and magical. It is possible that my life’s path is not for me, but for some other reason, but I am the one who needs to do it. There is an energy helping me during these moments that I can equate to Iron John providing a black horse and black armor to the boy when he asked for help. (or Cinderella receiving a beautiful dress and horse for the ball from—in the older versions—a tree on her mother’s grave) Iron John could help the boy fulfill his purpose and hope for the best but couldn’t actually break his own enchantment. A sort of symbiosis. Definitely stuff I want to read to my kid!

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